Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and the team’s scouts have been at the East-West Shrine Game practices and will depart for Mobile, Ala. to survey the talent at the Senior Bowl next week as the Bucs prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft and begin to stack talent on the team’s draft board. Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick due to the team’s 5-11 finish for a second straight season, which led to the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter.
Bruce Arians was hired to replace Koetter and brings a veteran staff of coaches with him to Tampa Bay, including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who primarily runs a 3-4 scheme, but will adapt his defense to fit the talent on the roster. The defense needs more playmakers in the secondary, and could use some youth along the defensive line if the team moves on from six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, who will turn 31 in February, and his $13 million salary. The Bucs could also use some immediate help at linebacker as Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy are coming off torn ACLs, and Kendell Beckwith missed the entire 2018 campaign while attempting to recover from a broken ankle. Alexander has yet to be re-signed by the Bucs and is slated for free agency.
On the offensive side of the ball, more help is needed at running back where Peyton Barber was a one-man gang, while second-round pick Ronald Jones II struggled to earn playing time and didn’t do much with it once he got it after a very disappointing preseason that leads some to believe he might be a bust. The Bucs also need help along the offensive line where the right guard position is the weakest on the team, and aging and oft-injured right tackle Demar Dotson turns 34 this year. Will the Bucs re-sign underachieving left tackle Donovan Smith to a long-term extension, slap him with the one-year franchise tag, or not re-sign him at all this offseason?
Tampa Bay has a plethora of offensive weapons in the passing game, and Arians has said that Jameis Winston, who is entering his fifth-year option season, will be the unquestioned starter this year. But the Bucs do need a backup quarterback and it might be time to draft a developmental candidate after having veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin serve as Winston’s backups for the past two seasons.
Some of these needs will be addressed in free agency in March before the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around in April, but PewterReport.com offers up its initial Bucs’ round-by-round draft projections to provide some help in those areas. Tampa Bay had only six picks in this year’s draft after trading J.J. Wilcox to Pittsburgh in 2017, as that deal involved giving away the Bucs’ seventh-round pick in 2019.
Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay traded its 2019 sixth-round pick to Arizona for the rights to Arians and received the Cardinals’ seventh-round pick in 2019 in the exchange.
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Round 1: LSU ILB Devin White 6-1, 240 – Junior
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense needs more talented playmakers for new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and White is one of the most athletic and physical defenders in this year’s draft. With the likes of Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and Kentucky pass-rushing linebacker Josh Allen already gone, the Bucs have the chance to take either LSU cornerback Greedy Williams or LSU linebacker Devin White, and opt for White in this mock draft.
The Bucs need to replace veteran cornerback Brent Grimes in 2019, but drafting another rookie cornerback to start opposite Carlton Davis is risky, as it would leave Tampa Bay’s secondary without any veterans at the position except for Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s first-round pick in 2016. Injuries have limited Hargreaves to just 10 games over the past two seasons, but the team was encouraged by his progress in training camp last year and wants to see how he will perform in Bowles’ defense, which will feature plenty of man coverage.
On the surface, linebacker doesn’t seem like a position of need with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, until you remember that Alexander is coming off a torn ACL and has yet to be re-signed. The Bucs are determining whether to re-sign him to a one-year prove-it deal, or a long-term extension, but are hesitant to do so now, and might wait until early March before the start of free agency to get an update on Alexander’s rehab.
Will he be ready for the start of training camp? Or will he miss camp and target the start of the season for his return?
Will Alexander return to his pre-injury form in 2019? Or will he need a year’s worth of playing to get back to his Pro Bowl level during the 2020 season?
Keep in mind that Kendell Beckwith, a player capable of playing MIKE or SAM linebacker in Tampa Bay missed all of the 2018 campaign after recovering from a broken ankle last offseason. Beckwith, the team’s third-round pick in 2017, had setbacks with his ankle upon returning to practice in October after missing training camp and the preseason, and his status for 2019 remains in doubt.
The same could be said for Jack Cichy, last year’s sixth-round pick who tore his ACL in the Cleveland game shortly after Alexander tore his. Those are three linebackers whose immediate future in Tampa Bay remains cloudy, underlying the need for another playmaking linebacker that could play and make an impact in Bowles’ defense, which will feature plenty of 3-4 fronts.
White, who turns 21 in February, was the leader of the Tigers defense over the last two seasons in which he was a first-team All-SEC linebacker. After being a second-team All-American in 2017 for recording 133 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups and one interception, White was the 2018 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. As a consensus All-American last year, White terrorized the SEC, leading the conference in tackles with 123 stops, 12 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, three sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
White’s LSU Career Defensive Stats 2016: 30 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR 2017: 133 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 PBUs, 1 INT 2018: 123 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 6 PBUs, 3 sacks, 3 FFs, 2 FRs
White played in a 3-4 defense in college and is a perfect fit for Bowles’ attack-style defense due to his ability to play on all three downs due to his speed, ability to blitz and drop in coverage. While he has to work on shedding blocks better at the next level, White has honed his instincts over the last two years and has a nose for the football. He also brings confidence and leadership ability to Tampa Bay’s defense.
LSU has a rich tradition for pumping out NFL-caliber linebackers with Tampa Bay having three of them in Alexander, Beckwith and Kevin Minter, who is also slated for free agency in 2019 after being a mid-season signing due to Alexander’s torn ACL. Other LSU linebackers in the NFL include Atlanta’s Deion Jones and Duke Riley, both of whom played with White, in addition to Seattle’s Barkevious Mingo, Detroit’s Kelvin Sheppard and Buffalo’s Corey Thompson.
White, a future Pro Bowler, is the fourth-rated player on Matt Miller’s Big Board on Bleacher Report and is featured in the Top 12 of many of the draft experts’ recent mock drafts. Bucs general manager Jason Licht has shown an affinity for acquiring LSU linebackers over the years, and White may be the most talented of them all and a player whose skill set aligns with Bowles’ attacking schemes.
Click below to view Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2019.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com